France would have known about govt's concern over sub deal: Aussie PM

Amid ongoing spat, PM Scott Morrison says he had raised issues over the deal with the French

SYDNEY: Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday the French government would have known Canberra had "deep and grave concerns" about buying French submarines before the deal was torn up last week.

France is furious at Australia's decision to withdraw from a multibillion-dollar deal to build French submarines in favour of American nuclear-powered vessels, recalling its ambassadors from Canberra and Washington and accusing its allies of "lying" about their plans.

Mr Morrison said he understood the French government's "disappointment" but said he had raised issues with the deal "some months ago", as had other government ministers.

"I think they would have had every reason to know we had deep and grave concerns that the capability being delivered by the Attack Class submarine was not going to meet our strategic interests, and we made very clear that we would be making a decision based on our strategic national interest," he said in Sydney.

He said it would have been "negligent" to proceed with the deal against intelligence and defence advice and that doing so would be counter to Australia's strategic interests.

"I don't regret the decision to put Australia's national interest first. Never will," he said.

Defence Minister Peter Dutton yesterday told Sky News his government had been "upfront, open and honest" with France that it had concerns about the deal, which was over-budget and years behind schedule.

Mr Dutton said he understood the "French were upset" but added that "suggestions that the concerns haven't been flagged by the Australian government just defy, frankly, what's on the public record and certainly what was said publicly over a long period of time".

"The government has had those concerns, we've expressed them, and we want to work very closely with the French and we'll continue to do that into the future," he said.

The new trilateral deal has also put Washington in an unprecedented diplomatic crisis with France that analysts say could do lasting damage to the US alliances with France and Europe, also throwing into doubt the united front that US President Joe Biden has been seeking to forge against China's growing power.

Mr Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron will talk on the phone in the coming days amid high tension over a submarines contract, a French government spokesman said yesterday. - AFP, REUTERS